FreshBooks Review 2017
A great invoicing tool that falls short of everything it promises; great for entrepreneurs who leave their finances in the hands of professionals.
By Ben Schmitt – Last Updated: 19 Jun'17
Here at Cloudwards we’re all about making people’s lives easier through cloud-based computing. Since small businesses are people, too, we’re doing a series on the best accounting software that will allow you all the benefits of being able to work from anywhere yet still have all the power traditional accounting programs offer.
Right now we’re doing our Freshbooks review of 2017.
alternatives to Freshbooks:
The intended audience seems to be the more the laid-back business owner who prefers to focus on what makes the business tick rather than the financial side, leaving those tasks to an accountant. Though there is still some utility to the program if you fall outside of this description, you may become a little frustrated with it at times if you’re more hands-on.
This isn’t to say it’s a bad program: what it does, it does well. It’s more a question of limited utility compared to other, full-blown online accounting systems.
More info on FreshBooks
FreshBooks was started in 2004 by a small company of people fed up with the old-fashioned pen-and paper method, who wanted a system that would automate invoicing. After playing around with the program for a while I have to say they succeeded admirably as the program is a real pleasure to use; no wonder it’s the second-most used app in the U.S.
FreshBooks – Does it Deliver?
It does need to be said that FreshBooks is not a full-blown accounting app as such, though it does advertise itself that way. The program was recently overhauled to address some of the issues customers had and now has an option to compare in- and outgoing money against each other as well as some other features, but still it contrast palely against the competition.
With that said, if keeping the books isn’t your top priority and you just want an online accounting solution that does the necessary quickly, you could do a lot worse than FreshBooks.
As with any other accounting software, FreshBooks has some strengths and weaknesses that we’ll cover in this 2017 review. Hopefully, it’ll make your decision easier.
- Strong invoicing tool;
- Great time-tracking functionality;
- Easy to learn;
- Very user-friendly.
- Not really a full accounting program;
- Expenses tab leaves something to be desired;
- Doesn’t take a lot of work away from your accountant.
At first glance the pricing schemes seem unclear: on the one hand they let you send unlimited invoices but limit how many clients you can bill. How it works is that, yes, you can send as many invoices as you want, but only to a specified number of people.
I found this to be a little misleading and you have to read some fine print to figure it out.
$ 15 00monthly
$ 180 00yearly
$ 25 00monthly
$ 300 00yearly
$ 50 00monthly
$ 600 00yearly
- Unlimited invoices;
- Unlimited invoices;
- Unlimited invoices;
What I do like is that FreshBooks offers a plan tailored for very small companies at a decent price ($15) with their Lite plan. Way too often the little guy ends up paying more than he should be just to buy a product he only needs a small part of; FreshBooks let’s you get exactly what you need thanks to adjusting only the amount of billable clients per plan while keeping other features the same.
Pricing Suited to The Self-Employed
Most small firms that use FreshBooks will most likely be looking at a monthly bill of $15 to $25, while larger companies will be spending $50. This last plan is a big jump price-wise and I would say that the savings of using FreshBooks apply mostly to sole proprietors.
FreshBooks pricing scheme is a bit odd as the Lite package is on the low end compared to competitors, while Plus is a tiny bit above average. The premium package, however, is far more expensive than almost every online accounting program we’ve reviewed. If you run a company with many small clients you may want to think twice before signing up with FreshBooks.
FreshBooks is certainly an economic choice for small businesses, but how does it stack up against the competition in regards to what it can do? Let’s have a look at what makes it stand out.
|Bank Feeds||North America only|
Keeping track of revenue is one of the main benefits of using an accounting app, you need to know how much money is being made, after all. FreshBooks is really good at letting you bill people, but the overview of all money outstanding is pretty basic.
FreshBooks was designed as an invoicing program and it shows: once you have your contact list set up (something that can be done pretty quickly) actually generating an invoice takes only a minute or two as the interface is smooth and intuitive, without any pointless frills.
Invoicing — The Quick & Easy Way
There are far fewer bells and whistles than with some programs, but FreshBooks is all about simplicity. It makes it easy to navigate and also minimizes the chances of making mistakes for those that don’t want to focus too much on something they regard as secondary.
Business owners who bill clients for their (or their staff’s) time will be overjoyed with the option to directly export a time sheet into an invoice, especially since the sheets are easy to fill out and produce neatly itemized invoices (if you filled it out neatly, that is). You can also invoice a combination of services and time, however you want it.
This means that you’ll not only be able to get rid of any third-party timekeeping device, but you can also skip the intermediate step of calculating the price and entering that data. It’s a good feature that’s been implemented well.
Invoices can either be printed out and sent via FreshBooks or you can email them to clients yourself. You can also set up a direct payment link that doesn’t go through FreshBooks but through Stripe, a third-party provider. Any payments made this way will update automatically to your overview.
Compared to the versatility of the invoicing system, FreshBooks’ expenses tab feels very basic: it’s all a manual process rather than automated. It really just is a list of outgoing money you need to fill out yourself, adding a brief description if you think it needs it. There are plenty of alternative programs that offer full automation and it feels like a major slip on the part of the developers.
The FreshBooks team obviously did what it could to make this administrative task consume as little time as possible by making data entry easy, but does expose the program’s biggest weakness: it’s not really an accounting program.
Expenses The Easy Way?
Instead of an accounts payable function where you can track outgoing money you have an expense sheet. Though not everyone, especially not the small businesses FreshBooks is obviously aimed at, will need to keep track of credits and such, it can be a bit of a letdown that there’s no real way to make sure you have enough money in-house to pay the bills.
What makes it even more regrettable is that the invoicing part of the program works so well, by using some of that expertise for A/P this app could have been fully rounded out. This is not to say it’s bad, as such, its simplicity is a recommendation for some and it works well, it may just be more basic than you need.
The closest thing FreshBooks has to expense tracking are their bank feeds which, sadly, don’t work very well. Not only are only North American banks linkable, which is understandable enough as the developers are Canadian, but it only updates a handful of times a day and really does nothing more than fill out your expense list for you.
It takes some data entry away, sure, but it doesn’t do any more, either. For example, it doesn’t record deposits of any kind so bank reconciliation (checking your bank statement against what you recorded) is out unless you use another program or prepare yourself for a long night typing numbers into spreadsheets, not fun.
There is no integrated payroll function in FreshBooks, though there is the option to go through a third party (list here). Any payments made through these apps should update automatically in your expenses list.
It’s handy if you only have a single employee or ones that work only intermittently, then again, the typical FreshBooks user will probably not have any staff so this feature is somewhat understandably absent.
Finding out how well you’re actually doing is not only good for you, it also helps your accountant so he won’t have to spend too much time sorting out your paperwork, saving you money. FreshBooks’ reports follow the example of most other functions in that they’re basic but good enough for people who need only to know the broad strokes of their finances.
The reports themselves are easy to read and cover most vital data, but any real A/P reports are lacking as are general ledgers where you can track revenue and expenses against each other.
Reports Make For a Happy Accountant
You do have a nifty button so you can share these reports directly with your accountant, saving some time as well as avoiding any communication problems regarding what he exactly needs from you. Your accountant most likely won’t mind you using FreshBooks as he’ll be able to get fairly clear information from you yet still be able to bill you a lot of hours to make it into a form that can be sent to the taxman, so that’s a win for him.
Back to the good news: FreshBooks is pretty easy and pleasant to use, especially if you’re new to doing your own books. Setup takes a few minutes and you’re not typing endless data in case the program ever needs it, every time you open a new tab it checks if it has all your necessary information to take care of it and you’re only asked to supply anything missing.
The interface is a bit chaotic and it took me some time to get used to it, but once I did I loved it as everything is found where it needs to be. FreshBooks uses layman’s lingo wherever possible, so the learning curve is minimal and you could be working away within fifteen minutes or even less without any effort.
To help users get started, every time you enter a new tab a tutorial prompt pops up that guides you through the steps of entering invoices, filling out time sheets, etc. These are clearly written and you’re rarely left with any questions after. There are a few competitors that could take a leaf out of FreshBooks’, uh, book, regarding this.
If you’re still left with questions about anything you can simply call customer service and they’ll put you on the phone with a fellow human being right quick. Staff are knowledgeable and friendly and I can’t imagine an issue that won’t be resolved eventually.
High marks all around for FreshBooks’ client-minded thinking, this is how programs should be designed.
Freshbooks just went through a major overhaul and there seems to be more coming in that regard. The recent overhaul took away a lot of niggles users had and generally smoothed out the entire experience. One niggle was, however, introduced: as most programs FreshBooks will from time to time ask you for confirmation through a pop-up box.That’s fine, but this one is pretty slow to load and you’ll have to cool your heels for a bit between tasks.
If you judge FreshBooks as an accounting program it will fall short from its competitors but as an invoicing app that offers some basic bookkeeping functions it’s a winner. Laid-back users that want to mainly focus on their business without too much hassle will love it for its clear interface and no-frills approach to your finances.
Though it doesn’t keep track of everything you may need, it gives you a decent overview of incoming and outgoing money, though to make the most of it you will need to do some data entry, especially if you’re not in the U.S. or Canada.
The biggest downside to using it is that it will cost you some time to do more advanced things (besides invoicing), yet not actually take any work away from your accountant. He’ll still have to put in time, which you’re paying for, to make sense of all the figures.
If you want to satisfy your inner bookkeeper you’d best look elsewhere, but it’s a good fit for anyone else.